The government should step in and use legislative action to relieve the country’s current chicken and egg shortages and prevent similar problems from occurring in the future.
Hume International managing director Fred Hume told eNCA that the local poultry industry is currently facing severe challenges, primarily due to matters outside of their control.
He said the local industry’s output is severely constrained under the country’s electricity crisis.
For example, load-shedding has increased electricity costs in cold stores dramatically over the past few years.
In addition, the industry is currently being ravaged by a severe strain of avian flu, which has spread to most of the country’s provinces. The current outbreak has led to over 7 million chickens being culled.
This has resulted in a nationwide shortage of eggs and chicken, which is only set to worsen as the disease spreads and producers struggle to replace the culled birds.
Hume said the government could have done more to curtail the spread of this disease by compensating farmers more fairly and speedily.
He stressed that bird flu is a recurring problem and endemic in poultry flocks worldwide.
“This happened last year, it’s happening this year, and it’s going to happen again next year. We need to put permanent measures in place to deal with this,” he said.
The Poultry Master Plan, signed earlier this year, introduced punitive anti-dumping duties on poultry imports from most of the country’s major trading partners.
While this was a positive move for the local industry, the government failed to reopen trade with countries that were closed due to a bird flu outbreak in those countries that have now been declared safe.
“We are not in favour of a removal of all import duties, even for a short period of time,” Hume clarified.
“We believe that would have devastating consequences for the local poultry industry long-term. The local poultry industry employs a lot of people, and they fill a vital role in food security in this country.”
However, he believes that in a situation like the one South Africa currently faces, the government should automatically make a rebate permit available, allowing for the importation of poultry.
These permits should not be free of all import duties but at least free of anti-dumping duties for a fixed period, like six months or 12 months, until the local industry recovers, he said.
“We need some certainty to respond as importers. Currently, we’re shooting in the dark,” he said.
“We don’t really know what to expect. There’s been a lot of talk of these duties being suspended or lifted or rebate permits being applied, but to date, nothing concrete has been put out, nothing that we can really use as a basis to act on.”
The Department of Agriculture has said it would be issuing import permits from countries free of avian flu and where the food safety standards are high enough to alleviate the country’s current shortage.
However, General Manager of Merlog Foods – an importer and distributor of chicken and other frozen food stuff – George Southey told 702 that this intervention has yet to bear fruit.
He said it is vital that these import permits are issued faster than they currently are.
“We applied ten days ago for import permits for some egg products to supplement the local supply. And ten days later, we still haven’t been issued with the import permits,” he said.
“If the government is taking this seriously and seeing this as an emergency, we need to see those permits being issued a lot quicker.”